It has been a while since I was in Baja. The last time consisted of a long drive starting from Lake Tahoe and winding all the way down the 800-mile peninsula. That trip ended badly. So it was finally time for a refresh.
An easy flight from Seattle to Cabo San Lucas, and then a 1.5 hour drive north to Cerrito, put me right on a south, southwest swell that pumped all week. It was a good jumping off point to visit Todos Santos, La Paz, and the numerous surf breaks radiating out in all directions.
Because Baja and the Pacific Plate continues to separate from the Mexican mainland like a zipper, this geologic phenomenon will only continue to widen the Sea of Cortez by about 2 inches per year, leaving plenty of room for whales and waves – and you – to travel up and down both sides of its tip.
Hard to believe it had been almost three years since returning home to Charleston. But the holidays eventually pull the sleigh back to your place of birth. The smell of shrimp and grits, surf wax and gunpowder mixed well with the piney aroma of a Christmas tree. Never enough time to soak it all in, but it was a success nonetheless.
I continue to be inspired by the stunning beauty, cataclysmic geology and agricultural productivity of Eastern Washington. Apples and cherries continue to be leading crops, but many people do not know that this region produces 75% of the nation’s hops, and it is also the 2nd largest producer of premium wine. Great beer, wine and scenery? Sold.
If you love geology, I highly recommend checking out Nick Zentner. He teaches at Washington State University and lives in Ellensburg. Whether you find yourself in Olympic National Park, Cascades, or the Missoula floodplain, Nick can certainly put the vast expanse of time and change in perspective via his podcast, PBS, or other streams of content.
Just a few scenes from the East Side. Click the thumbnails for a larger view.
The massive stone headlands guard the cove from the wide expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Winds from the north or south can destroy any chance of good surfing, so finding shelter like this is special. We follow the meandering path down through the forest of Western Red Cedar, Hemlock and Sitka Spruce. A skinny creek runs alongside our course nourishing the roots of these massive trees. When full with rain it will carry worn pebbles to the beach before losing itself to the sand and sea.
The trail ends at a high bluff. The water is deep blue, and the waves are good. It doesn’t take us long to pick a spot where the cove best captures the subtle bend and refraction of swell.
Will positions a pin tail he shaped into the pitch of a fun right. On his feet in an instant, he grabs the rail, tucks, and leans on a Greenough fin to drive in front of the pocket. I hoot as he follows the curvature of the sea floor beyond my sight. Bobbing in the cool water, the skin of a wetsuit insulates my body. A breeze blows offshore bringing the warmth of land and smell of the forest.
My oldest son is there. I’ve fretted over him for years, but now I don’t need to apply such a careful eye. Will’s partner, Andrea, points. I turn to see him riding a fun left. He manages the speed and spontaneity well. Quality time spent in lower latitudes helps make the moment.
That night Andrea makes Manhattans, and we talk of surfing in her home country of Peru. We make indefinite plans. Will and my wife, Julia, grill leeks and meat. Our two boys poke the fire. That night we lay on the cool sand of the beach. The stars are at our fingertips. Aliens may have landed, but we were in our tents by then.
The next day we arrive late to a different beach. A towering dune of sand 250 feet high morphs into a stone promontory. Prehistoric waves broke at its base. A lone haystack stands guard further out. Grey whales breach and blow. The surf is good. It is the smell of sunscreen again; surf wax; and neoprene. A hint of breeze. We paddle out. Chances appear on the horizon and attempts are made. But a more determined wind deteriorates the conditions. The union is over.
It was a quick trip from Seattle to San Diego to catch some fun surf pushing southwest off of Hurricane Marie. I was little apprehensive to fly on a plane for the first time since COVID-19, but a recent tour of SeaTac made me feel better about it. Kudos to Alaska Airlines for only charging $30 one-way for a surfboard.
I met two friends who I grew up with in Charleston, one who lived 3 doors down from me on the same block. The special fact that three southerners were converging from our homes in Los Angeles, Encinitas and Seattle for 5 days of consistent California surf was not lost on any of us. We had a blast.
As I’ve moved into my 40s, the 6’8 Crowd Killer by Lost has become my go-to travel surfboard for variable conditions whether paddling into deeper or steeper waves or battling offshore winds. Plenty of foam while still maneuverable and dynamic. I also highly recommend these travel bags by Wave Tribe for being durable, protective and sustainably made.
Packed light for the plane so no professional photos this time. Oh well, more time for surfing…
For anyone who lives in the greater Seattle region, Mount Rainier (or maybe it is time for Tahoma National Park?) is a spectacle to behold. “She’s out” is a common refrain from Seattle/Tacoma residents when the weather is nice. The mountain dominates the horizon, and while majestic, poses a significant risk to an ever increasing population.
Considered a dormant active volcano, it is believed to have erupted as recently as the late 1800s. The mountain averages 30 small earthquakes per year, and there is geothermal activity around the crater that will rid its rim of snow not long after a snowstorm. More incredible are the mind boggling sizes of past mudflows that have raced down her flanks at speeds of 50mph and as high as almost 500 feet. Ancient forests have been found buried deep below the surface. And these flows have made it all the way to Puget Sound.
Glacial activity on Rainier continues to sculpt the landscape – and swallow the occasional climber. There are a total of 25 glaciers on the mountains, and the volume of snow and glacier ice is equivalent to that of all the other Cascade Range volcanoes combined. You could fill T-Mobile Park stadium in Seattle 2600 times.
Take the time to learn more about the impressive geology that has shaped greater Seattle and this mountain into what it is today. It will make you feel small and insignificant, but you will be a better person for it.
While Rainier continues to stew in her own juices and whisper to the underworld for direction on her next great show, we get to explore her flanks and marvel at the sheer magnitude of this 14,411 foot peak that rises some 3 miles above greater Seattle.